Taiwan TV ‘cool’ provokes new restrictions in China

Posted by Martyn

Taiwan TV is the new China cool. Mainland cable TV offers several Taiwanese TV channels and the programmes have proved extremely popular in China. Taiwan’s freer society influences the TV programmes made there and these influences, in turn, have now caught on to dreary Mainland TV. Not surprisingly, therefore, Beijing’s puritanical officials want to put a stop to it. In September, yet another new set of rules were handed down by the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, China’s broadcasting authority, to halt the ‘creep of vulgarity and non-Chinese influences’ into the programs offered up by the 3,000 national, provincial, city and county stations in Mainland China:

Masters of ceremony on state television’s seemingly endless roster of variety shows, the regulations said, should avoid vulgarity, dress modestly and uplift their young viewers. “Hosts and hostesses represent the image of radio and TV stations and therefore have an unshakable responsibility to spread advanced culture and national virtue and to safeguard the country’s interests and avoid unhealthy news stories that will mislead the public” the authorities decreed.

I try to avoid CCTV and the other state-controlled channels at all costs. Unfortunately, however, I don’t live alone. When flicking through the TV channels in China it’s fairly easy to spot which programmes are from the Mainland and which are from Taiwan or Hong Kong. Mainland programmes are a bit, er, dull. Horribly conformist presenters and their vacuous, stiff and dreary guests battle it out over who’s haircut is the most uninspiring and vapid and who’s clothes are the most instantly forgettable dark shades of gray and blue. Their staid performances also reek of mind-numbingly dull respectability.

Taiwan TV, in comparison, is an orgy of outrageous individualism, unpredictability and vibrancy. Sexy, flirtatious, wildly-dressed, extroverted and highly-opinionated men and women provide hours of amusing and provocative banter. One of the most popular Taiwanese shows in China is Kangxi lai le (康熙来了), an entertainment talk show hosted by former pop starlet turned TV presenter Ms. Xu Xidi (徐熙娣) and her outrageously camp co-presenter Mr. Cai Kangyong (蔡康永). Ms Xu has extremely short-cropped hair, wears very flamboyant outfits and has a tongue like a whip. Mr. Cai, with his bouffant hair do, outrageous clothes and iniquitous style is a well-known and openly gay TV star. There are no Mainland equivalents of Xu and Cai.

However, one less obvious stipulation in the rules regards the use of standard Mandarin Chinese. Presenters must stop using “cool” Taiwanese and Hong Kong slang and accents:

To millions of Chinese, particularly boys and girls in the provinces who constitute the main audience for pop-oriented variety shows, Hong Kong and Taiwanese speech has come to mean being cool. As a result, some hosts and hostesses of mainland variety shows have taken to throwing Taiwanese slang words and Hong Kong tones into their on-air speech, associating themselves with the cool radiating from those two centers of the Chinese-language pop industry.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 16 Comments

You are lucky that you can understand Chinese as the rest of us are stuck with the god-awful CCTV-9.

Does anyone, anywhere watch this channel? Seriously, does anyone treat it as anything other than a joke?

Who the hell is that English guy that reads the news anyways? I suppose as far as television goes, CCTV-9 is the bottom of the food chain. Like the media equivalent of McDonalds. If a TV worker gets turned down for a job at CCTV-9 – like, where the hell do you go after that?

October 1, 2005 @ 2:23 am | Comment

Btw, what channel has the Kuanxi laile show mentioned in the post? It sounds like something I’d surely like to check out following that graphic description!

October 1, 2005 @ 2:24 am | Comment

I would totally disagree with the statement “it’s fairly easy to spot which programmes are from the Mainland and which are from Taiwan or Hong Kong.” Maybe if we’re talking about 5 or 10 years ago, but today, the majority of popular Chinese language programs are found on CCTV or local tv stations. I am a regular watcher of CCTV and while the news has its problems, there is also a good amount of quality programming.

As for CCTV 9, the english news isn’t that bad most of the time (I’d only watch it when desiring to hear english spoken for awhile) and some of the travel programs they have are okay. The only thing I can’t stand is the foreign idiot who does the weather and butchers the name of every Chinese city.

October 1, 2005 @ 5:21 am | Comment

As for CCTV 9, the english news isn’t that bad most of the time

Wrong. It’s horrific. A nuclear bomb could strike in downtown Los Angeles, and CCTV-9 News would start with a description of Hu Jintao attending some conference in a city no one ever heard of to discuss some boring land use policy while everyone they interview breathlessy explains howwonderful CCP policy has been and how happy they are. That’s CCTV-9 news.

October 1, 2005 @ 5:30 am | Comment

Well then, Boran, we’ll have to agree to disagree on whether one can spot the difference Mainland and Taiwan TV shows. I stand by that statement because I can certainly spot the differences.

Like in the post, for example, if a lady presenter is wearing a revealing little pink spandex dress with bright pink fake fur trimming and has extremely short hair, then that lady is not hosting a show from the Mainland.

Having lived in both the Mainland and Taiwan – trust me – the difference is huge, even today.

Re CCTV-9, you’re the first (and I’m sure the last) person I’ve ever heard say anything good about it. To be kind, I’ll just say that it’s shockingly amateurish.

October 1, 2005 @ 6:04 am | Comment

Brian, I think Kangxi Lai le it’s on Kevin in Pudong’s favourite TV channel: Phoenix.

Isn’t that right Kevin?!

I like your CCTV-9 – McDonalds comparison. I haven’t ever thought about it like that before. That’s a good one.

October 1, 2005 @ 6:06 am | Comment

I’m no fan of censorship, but I do think it’s ridiculous to pretend to have a Taiwanese or Kantonese accent (along the same lines as spelling words wrong on purpose–log on to a QQ chat room or check out some of Tencent’s users’ personal infos).

BTW we wouldn’t be having this problem if any channel here played The O.C. (does anyone know how many seasons it’s gonna be?) or Friends, no Taiwanese or Hongkong show would have a chance to influence anyone

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Does anyone know if there’s a site that records the dialogue from CCTV’S XinWenLianBo?

October 1, 2005 @ 8:42 am | Comment

Nobody calls 徐熙娣 by her full name in Taiwan. Rather, everyone calls her by her nickname 小S.

I can’t believe you’re seriously praising Taiwanese TV shows. They’re God awful (though admittedly not as unrepentantly terrible as anything on CCTV.) Sometimes I’ll watch 超級兩代電力公司, which is a sometimes entertaining talk show with the aforementioned Cai Yongkang. But for the most part, there’s a reason why Korean soaps are wildly popular in Taiwan and it ain’t because people are interested in Korean culture.

October 1, 2005 @ 8:42 am | Comment

And I’d agree with boran’s statement that it’s not so easy to distinguish between Taiwanese and mainland shows. Yeah, you won’t see the mainland equivalent of Xiao S, but the variety shows with the endless litany of singers (which seem to be the most popular type of show on both sides of the straits) are pretty much the exact same. I don’t understand how people can watch two or three hours of those shows a night. Moreover, the FTV English News Hour in Taiwan is much worse than CCTV-9′s English news production values-wise (but of course not content-wise).

October 1, 2005 @ 8:53 am | Comment

I have to agree with Wayne that Taiwan TV is drek. Not quite up there with the Mainland, but not so far behind either. And so many channels offering such similar shows! Bizarre.

October 1, 2005 @ 8:55 am | Comment

Wayne, it’s a fact that Taiwan TV shows are hugely popular in the Mainland. Why are they hugely popular? Because of the reasons I mentioned in the post. While you might think that they are awful, people over here don’t. As you say, Mainland TV does not offer much stiff competition.

Also, most of the hottest singers/actors etc in the Mainland are Taiwanese of course. The guests on the Taiwan TV shows are well known here.

Re the differences between Mainland/Taiwan shows. Perhaps the big extravaganzas/variety shows are a similar mix of compere and acts but next time you’re over here, sit in front of a TV with cable. As well as the differences described in the post, there are other shows, for instance, where a couple of Taiwanese presenters go sprinting around a town quickly scoffing food in restaurants. 7-11′s etc. This is just one example, but you’d never see a Mainland show with people doing anything like that. Mainland TV still has a long way to go.

October 1, 2005 @ 9:15 am | Comment

Taiwanese TV might be bad to you, even if you’re not Taiwanese, but it’s riotously FREE and that is part of my point. The shows are also suited for a local audience – not foreigners like us. Mainland TV already has a long way to go but now the govt are implementing new restrictions. God help Mainland TV.

October 1, 2005 @ 9:19 am | Comment

I have watched CCTV9, and I think that American weather guy is just awfull.

October 1, 2005 @ 9:43 am | Comment

Sorry, the 9:19 comment was to RIchard.

October 1, 2005 @ 10:20 am | Comment

CCTV9 weather, thoroughly entertaining because it is so BAD. The worst graphics and the worst presenters. Where did they find these guys?? At least they are advertising for new presenters now…and as for the ‘news’ coverage; Richard summed it up very well…..let’s find a building full of COMPLETELY boring people and run a story on it, of course completely forgetting what is REALLY happening in the REAL world.

February 21, 2006 @ 8:00 pm | Comment

What do you think of the new CCTV9 Sunday weather girl?

May 30, 2006 @ 6:31 am | Comment

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